Ustica – is this the Mediterranean's #1 dive location?

We have just returned from a last blast on the slopes of Switzerland where winter is losing its grip on anything below 2,000 metres – the snow being wet, heavy and difficult. But Gstaad is blessed with a glacier at 3,000 metres and on Tuesday there was not a cloud in the sky and so we headed to what seemed like the top of the world with Mont Blanc looking resplendent on the horizon.

After skiing one evening we got talking with our neighbours at the bar and we were telling them about our blogs on scuba diving in the Mediterranean. As chance would have it these guys, as well as looking the part of snowboard professionals, were avid divers and they immediately reeled off names like Eddystone Reef, Diamond Rocks and Scapa Flow. Of course there is one major problem with these sites – they are not in the Mediterranean!

We mentioned that we had already written about Malta/Gozo and Cyprus and asked them what their experiences were of scuba diving in the Mediterranean. They looked at us somewhat quizzically ‘ Diving in the Med is great but its not in the top ten of world destinations – besides the pollution the Med has a fundamental problem – the water is too cold to support coral growth and all that is associated with coral reefs, a multitude of aquatic fauna and flora’.

‘Fair point but if push comes to shove, other than the places we had already mentioned where would you go?’ Secca della Columbara or Chios Island was the answer and as we had heard of neither we asked a few questions and when you watch the video below you may think our friends were being ungenerous with their critique.

Secca della Columara

Not a bad idea to know where it is – Ustica, Italy – OK but we need a bit more – about 50kms north of Sicily in the Tyrrhenian Sea which is on the west side of Italy. Ustica is small, 9 kms across with no more than 1300 inhabitants.

File:Ustica map.png

The island (8.7 sq km) is actually the tip of a submerged volcano and, as a result, the surrounding waters are a feast of fish and coral, ideal for snorkelling, diving and underwater photography. In July the island hosts the International Festival of Underwater Activities, which draws divers from around the world. The best months in which to visit, however, are June and September when the wild coastline and dazzling grottoes can be appreciated without the crowds. The best way to get there is by ferry from Palermo, Sicily.

wreck, Ustica, Italy

Photo of Secca della Columbara courtesy of Andrew Reay-Robinson

The best dive sites are the Secca della Columbara to the north of the island and the Scoglio del Medico to the west. Note that Zone A of the marine reserve is a protected area. Fishing, diving and even swimming are forbidden here without permission from the Marine Reserve Visitors Centre (Centro Accoglienza; 091 844 94 56; Piazza Umberto 1) which can organise diving excursions into the zone.

The Secca della Columbara is a 43 metre dive featuring a steep wall decorated with sponges and red Gorgonia. The dive is usually undertaken with the wall on your right as you descend to the wreck of a 73m wreck which sank in 2005 and broke into two parts. Large grouper, baracuda and amberjacks, crayfish, dentex and white bream can be seen.

Here is a promotional video from profondobluustica which – when it gets to the diving – looks great. Our friends from the mountains certainly knew their stuff – thanks guys for this great recommendation on where to dive in the Mediterranean. We are pleased to share it with you and check us out tomorrow when we tell you about Chios Island.

Lola Jones

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